When I lost my wife Shelia in the Alturas mass shooting, so many people reached out in an attempt to console me. I can tell you all, the two things I got sick of hearing were the phrases "In time things will get better" and "I know how you feel. Wrong, wrong, wrong. I can assure you that no matter how much time goes by, I am not going to feel better. I may feel differently about things, but nothing in my life is going to be "better." My pain may take on different forms over time, but it's never going to go away.
Secondly, I can guarantee you that no, you certainly don't know how I feel. Nothing in life can prepare you for or can even compare to losing your spouse in a mass shooting. Not to illness, or a car accident, or a divorce, nothing. So please, don't try to compare your loss to mine. I understand that people sincerely just want to help and I'm sure that they genuinely feel bad for you. However, they just need to acknowledge the fact that they can't possibly understand what you're going through and that there is nothing they can say to make you feel better because the situation and emotions are beyond words. Stop trying to say things designed to talk me out of grieving. Understand that I am in pain and justifiably so. It's okay to just let me live it, feel it and cry about it. When people fail to realize this, despite their best intentions, they actually make you feel worse instead of better.
After Shelia's death, it was important for me to be able to talk with someone who had experience in counseling people who had lost a loved one to gun violence. Even more specifically, counseling people who had lost a loved one in a mass shooting. I figured there must be someone out there, right? I live in a very remote part of California, so I knew the chances of finding someone locally was pretty much out of the question. But, I have a fantastic health insurance plan and there is Skype, so I thought even the distance thing wouldn't be an issue.
First I went through all the proper channels. The victims assistance organizations at both the state and national level. Neither one seemed to be able to point me in the right direction. Not just in finding a psychologist, but not even for a support group. Once again I found myself in a familiar situation. That despite people's best intentions, I had to strike out on my own to get things done.
So to the internet I went. First, I wanted to find and work with a psychologist who had the experience I was seeking. I did a bunch of general searches. I even went to The Dr. Phil Show's website to look at the list of therapists they offered as referrals. Eventually I ended up on the Psychology Today website and their list of therapists. I can honestly say that I didn't find one with any experience in working with someone in my situation. So I lowered the bar a bit and started to look through the many that offered grief counseling. I started making phone calls and sending emails to therapists. I don't think that anyone actually picked up the phone. I left many a voice mail message explaining who I was and that I had just lost my wife in a mass shooting. I even offered information for them to research the shooting to add to my credibility. Out of the dozens of messages I left, I probably only got about three of four call backs. The ones that did call me back offered more reasons why they couldn't help me rather than being of any help.
On my own again, I went to social media. I wish I could you all exactly how I came across the people I did, but I can't. Within a week though, I was talking on the phone with family members from the Newtown and Aurora shootings. I can't begin to tell you how good it felt to talk with these people. It was uplifting and exactly the right thing that I needed in my time of debilitating grief. They are warm, caring and supportive. Hearing them talk about their own experiences, it was amazingly identical to what I was going through. Even down to their dealings with the victims assistance programs, the red tape, and disappointing legal issues. Maybe it was just having my feelings validated or knowing that it wasn't just me doing something wrong or not doing enough.
The important thing is that there are people out there who knew exactly how I was feeling and knew exactly what to stay. The bad thing is, that I should never have had to be the one to strike out on my own to find these people. It's already overwhelming for me dealing with the grief. Never mind also having to deal with police, DA's , insurance companies and worrying about keeping a roof over my head.
I think that if the existing victims assistance programs want to truly assist victims, they should have a network set up of people who have been through this ordeal. A virtual support group, if you will. I know that I can speak for not only myself, but for the others I have talked with , that we are all willing to help. We have no problem talking about our loved ones and how we lost them. We are all willing to share and to help others.
That's why when I heard the news about the Isla Vista shooting, my heart went out to those families. I know all too well what they are going through. I want so much to reach out to them and offer any comfort I can. I know talking with the other families helped me tremendously. I, in turn wish to help others. By the way, I still haven't found that psychologist.